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Years ago I tried to reduce my caloric intake. I failed within a month. The truth is most of us need more than 1,200 calories daily. This is especially true if you're active and maintain a healthy body weight.
Depending on your size you can comfortably consume 1,500 to 2,500 daily calories without overeating. But if you are looking to lose weight consider adopting a diet that has fewer daily calories.
Caloric restriction is easier than you think
When you think of caloric restriction a diet of dry chicken breast and broccoli may come to mind.
This doesn't have to be the case. You can enjoy filling tasty meals while consuming fewer calories.
The only way to do this is to eat minimally processed whole foods that are high in fiber. Many fruits, veg, and legumes are high in fiber. This allows you to feel full longer. Whole foods are oftentimes lower in calories so you can eat them more freely.
Not all calories are created equal. If you're consuming 1,200 daily calories of primarily junk food this will leave you with blood sugar spikes. Spikes in blood sugar cause you to have binge eating episodes. You have a higher chance to gain weight despite the caloric reduction.
If you’re overweight or obese you should be able to consume fewer calories while allowing your body to burn its excess fat stores for energy.
A good way to do this is to track what you’re eating daily.
Tracking gives you an idea of what’s the proper serving for your nutritional needs. You’ll also become aware of how many calories you currently consume.
The key is to track but not become obsessed.
If you’re active increase your intake on intense workout days. You’ll still lose weight in the long run.
There are potential long term health benefits in caloric restriction
Recently, there have been studies showing a potential link to caloric restriction and longevity according to the National Inisutue on Aging (NIA).
The data on caloric restriction and longevity has been almost non-existent but the NIA pioneered a long-term study called the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE).
In the study CALERIE:
- 218 young to middle-aged normal weight or moderately overweight adults were randomly divided into two groups.
- People in the caloric restriction (CR) group were told to follow the protocol for two years.
- The control group followed their normal diet.
The CR group was told to reduce their intake by 25% but this was found not sustainable for the long term. Instead, the CR group reduced intake by 12% and maintained a 10% weight loss over the 2 years.
A follow-up study saw the 10% weight loss stick. Compared to the control group the CR group also had reduced risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Overall the study found that caloric restriction was safe for the long term as long as the participants were monitored.
Much of Western society is overwhelmed with food. Most of us can get by with less than we currently consume.
Intermittent fasting is the easiest way to reduce caloric intake
One of the best ways to reduce calories without going overboard is to practice an intermittent fasting protocol. Fasting allows you to restrict calories without too much effort.
Fasting can also help you with:
- Long term weight and body fat loss
- Increased focus and mental clarity (after an adjustment period)
- Reduced risk of brain degeneration, diabetes, and high LDL cholesterol
There are many ways to practice a fasting protocol but the 16:8 way of fasting is the most popular. Essentially, you fast for 16 hours a day and have an eight-hour eating window.
Meal-timing can also have a higher impact on weight loss than classic caloric restriction.
If you don't eat in the morning you allow your body to continue to burn its fat stores. Once you begin eating you start to burn off glucose for energy.
When you fast at a minimum of 12–14 hours, you begin to burn fat again.
In conclusion, it's possible to consume 1,200 calories daily. But it’s best done with eating whole minimally processed foods while cycling in more calories on high-intensity days.
Intermittent fasting can also help you adjust to fewer daily calories simply because you have fewer opportunities to eat in a day.